When I first arrived in the United States, I was uncomfortable with having an accent. It takes time for people to understand someone with an accent, particularly when they come across an accent they have not heard before. This was my case - I have a Malaysian accent.
It is different when you have a British, Australian or even a Chinese accent, since most American will have come across people from these nations before or been exposed to these accents on TV. My accent was definitely going to be a new one for most Americans.
[Read more about struggling to be understood with an unfamiliar accent
But rather than let my accent be a hindrance, I eventually learned to use my accent to my advantage. And I found a number of situations where having an accent that was unfamiliar to most Americans turned out to be a positive.
For one thing, having an accent enables you to stand out. As your accent comes out naturally in conversation, people take an interest in where you are from and your cultural background. It's actually a great conversation starter when you meet new people.
And an accent can also be an advantage in extracurricular activities. For example, if you are in an acting class or a production, you can use your accent to make your character unique and different. In my case, I was able to use my accent in mock trial.
Mock trial is something like moot court. Students compete in staged trials to learn about the legal system and practice their skills of argument and rhetoric. I played a witness on my mock trial team, and I was given room to improvise on the character of my witness.
A lot students actually put on an accent to act out their character, with most choosing a British accent. As it was my first attempt at mock trial, I decided to stick with my own accent to play my witness, and made him my very own Malaysian witness. This has worked in my favor, as I was able to be consistent with my accent throughout the trial, even during cross-examination, which impressed some of the judges.
It was only after each trial that they found out it was my real accent, hence the consistency. :)
We had a good run at some tournaments, and I came to love my accent.
With that being said, there are definitely moments in which your accent can work to your disadvantage. The biggest one is the common problem of misunderstandings while communicating with others.
[Read more opinions on whether having an accent is a positive or negative
But I believe if we choose to use our accent to our advantage, there are many avenues in which we are able to do so. I do struggle at times to remain clear during my mock trial rounds, but I know that with great practice, everything is possible.